The Vacation Equation

Did you know that 54% of full-time workers in the U.S. don’t use all their paid time off? This means half of us are giving this time back to our employers for free.

A group called Project Time Off recently broke this news after working with market research service GfK to conduct a survey early of over 7,000 American adults working over 35 hours a week who receive PTO. But wait, it gets worse….

Based on the survey results, our Nation’s Capital has the highest percentage of unused days among the 30 largest metropolitan cities, and millennial women are 7% less likelythan millennial men to use all their vacation days. These are two especially troubling data points given CHIEF’s location (DC what up) and team demographics (66% women).  

So what’s all this mean? The compounded effects of unused vacation days are staggering. The spending potential of unused PTO in 2016 for the U.S. economy was $128 billion. Not only couldn’t employees save that money, they couldn’t spend it—and produce growth— elsewhere. Using Bureau of Economic Analysis employment data, Oxford Economics projected an overall economic impact of $236 billion from those unused vacation days.

Beyond the micro and macro-socioeconomic effects of not using your vacation, use or nonuse of these days has direct implications to your health, happiness and career success. Before we dive in let’s consider what I call the ‘Vacation Equation’ essential for generating personal and professional growth.

Vacation + Travel + Project =  Improvement

Now let’s break it down. According to the Oxford dictionary:

Vacation (noun): period spent away from home or business in travel or recreation.

Travel (verb): to make a journey, typically of some length or abroad.

    *It’s important to distinguish vacation from travel, because not every vacation entails travel and not every travel experience is a recreational vacation.*

Project (noun): an individual or collaborative enterprise that is carefully planned and designed to achieve a particular aim.

Improvement (noun): the act of making something better.

Of course, none of us are the same and we all want to improve in various ways. However, as human beings we’re united in our will to thrive. To try to be better at whatever it is we want to do. To build upon our accomplishments and well-being.

I’m not just making this up. Scientific studies on taking time away from the office show transformational effects on mood, mindset and attitude towards the world, and your work.

Let’s take a look at a few of the highlights:

  1. Travel decreases our levels of stress and increases happiness and productivity. Data from a Twitter study showed that users’ happiness levels soared the further they were from home.
  2. You will feel increased energy upon returning to work after travel. Project Time Off  found that if you plan your journey, make social connections, go far from your routine and feel safe, 94% of your vacations will have a good ROI in terms of energy.
  3. Project Time Off’s survey also found that people who used 11 or more of their vacation days were 30% more likely to receive a raise or a bonus.
  4. You’re more likely to create something unique upon your return if you open yourself up to new and diverse experiences. In fact,  according to their creators, the ideas for Instagram and Hamilton were inspired while on vacation.
  5. Creativity researchers found a strong connection between increased creative output and working on multiple projects at once. So why not use your free time to work on a creative side project/hobby for accelerated effects?

So, the research starts to add up:

When you use vacation days +

For diverse experiences, far away from your routine +

And plan to achieve some output(s) =

You increase your success rate at work (not to mention your overall mental health).

We’re grateful that CHIEF’s leadership understands the importance of time off and has fostered a culture of BRAVE explorations for maintaining work/life balance. Our agency notifies us of unused days and truly encourages us to take them. Being that the U.S. is the only developed nation that does not require PTO, it’s safe to say most corporate cultures don’t exactly tout the merits of unplugging, recharging and rebooting during your hard-earned PTO days.

So go forth and use this equation at your own workplace, in your own lives. Drive home the notion that travel is an opportunity to engage your mind, reach another level of thinking and interpret new perspectives.

When we develop a plan for a new travel experience based on our interests, with goals in mind, we can improve and create something better— for our clients, for our agency and for ourselves.

So get the OK from your managers, devise a plan and pack your suitcases. Here’s a few more resources to help get your adventure started:


Tweet us and share your Vacation Equation experiences!

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